1 Samuel 15:15
And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) The people spared the best of the sheep . . .—At once the king understood the drift of his old friend’s words; still more, perhaps, the stern, sorrowful look of reproach which accompanied them, “Yes, I understand your meaning. This bleating and lowing certainly does come from the captured flocks and herds of Amalek, but this reservation, which you condemn, was insisted upon by the people; and their object, for which you blame me for acquiescing in, was to do special honour to God in a great sacrifice.” There seems something strangely cowardly in this trying to transfer from himself to the people the blame of disobedience to the Divine commands. It is unlike Saul’s old character; but covetousness and vanity invariably lead to moral cowardice.

1 Samuel 15:15. They — That is, the people; have brought them from the Amalekites — Thus he lays the blame upon the people, whereas they could not do it without his consent, and he should have used his power to overrule them. To sacrifice unto the Lord thy God — This was a plausible pretence; but as the Lord had given express command that nothing should be saved, no more for himself than for them, this excuse could be no more than an instance of mean hypocrisy.15:10-23 Repentance in God is not a change of mind, as it is in us, but a change of method. The change was in Saul; He is turned back from following me. Hereby he made God his enemy. Samuel spent a whole night in pleading for Saul. The rejection of sinners is the grief of believers: God delights not in their death, nor should we. Saul boasts to Samuel of his obedience. Thus sinners think, by justifying themselves, to escape being judged of the Lord. The noise the cattle made, like the rust of the silver, Jas 5:3, witnessed against him. Many boast of obedience to the command of God; but what means then their indulgence of the flesh, their love of the world, their angry and unkind spirit, and their neglect of holy duties, which witness against them? See of what evil covetousness is the root; and see what is the sinfulness of sin, and notice that in it which above any thing else makes it evil in the sight of the Lord; it is disobedience: Thou didst not obey the voice of the Lord. Carnal, deceitful hearts, like Saul, think to excuse themselves from God's commandments by what pleases themselves. It is hard to convince the children of disobedience. But humble, sincere, and conscientious obedience to the will of God, is more pleasing and acceptable to him than all burnt-offering and sacrifices. God is more glorified and self more denied, by obedience than by sacrifice. It is much easier to bring a bullock or lamb to be burned upon the altar, than to bring every high thought into obedience to God, and to make our will subject to his will. Those are unfit and unworthy to rule over men, who are not willing that God should rule over them.There is something thoroughly mean in his attempt to shift the responsibility of what was done from his own kingly shoulders to those of the people. Every word uttered by Saul seems to indicate the breaking down of his moral character. 13-23. Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord—Saul was either blinded by a partial and delusive self-love, or he was, in his declaration to Samuel, acting the part of a bold and artful hypocrite. He professed to have fulfilled the divine command, and that the blame of any defects in the execution lay with the people. Samuel saw the real state of the case, and in discharge of the commission he had received before setting out, proceeded to denounce his conduct as characterized by pride, rebellion, and obstinate disobedience. When Saul persisted in declaring that he had obeyed, alleging that the animals, whose bleating was heard, had been reserved for a liberal sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, his shuffling, prevaricating answer called forth a stern rebuke from the prophet. It well deserved it—for the destination of the spoil to the altar was a flimsy pretext—a gross deception, an attempt to conceal the selfishness of the original motive under the cloak of religious zeal and gratitude. They, i.e. the people. Thus, after the manner of all hypocrites, he excuseth himself, and lays the blame upon the people; whereas they could not do it without his privity and consent; and he should have used his power and authority to overrule them for God’s sake, as he had done formerly for his own sake. But the truth is, he was zealous for his own honour and interest, but lukewarm where God only was concerned.

To sacrifice unto the Lord: it is not likely that this was his and the people’s design; but this he now pretends, and ascribes that to his piety, which was indeed the effect of his impiety and avarice.

Thy God, whom thou lovest and servest, and therefore must needs be pleased with our pious respect to him and his service. And Saul said, they have brought them from the Amalekites,.... That is, the people, laying the blame upon them, as Adam did on his wife, as if he had no concern at all in it, when it is clear from 1 Samuel 15:9 he was the principal one; nor is it probable the people should do this of themselves, without his consent and authority, which was so directly contrary to the express order of God; and then to excuse the people as well as he could, on whom he laid the blame, he observes this was not done for their own private profit and advantage, but for the service and worship of God:

for the people spared the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; by way of gratitude and thankfulness for the victory they had obtained; and therefore, since they had so good an end and design in sparing what they had, and those the best and fittest for sacrifice, he hoped they would easily be excused; and that the prophet would use his best interest with the Lord, who was his God, to whom they designed to do honour, that he would overlook what was amiss in them:

and the rest we have utterly destroyed; as they were commanded; but then it was only the vile and the refuse, the best they had reserved for their own use; though he now coloured it with this specious pretence of sacrificing to God, when he found it was taken notice of, and was resented.

And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
15. And Saul said, &c.] Saul tries (a) like Aaron at Sinai (Exodus 32:22), to shift the blame from himself on to others; (b) to palliate the offence by alleging a good motive. But “the king who heeded the voice of his army in such a matter shewed that he was not their leader, but their tool and their slave. The king who pretended to keep the booty for the purpose of offering sacrifice to the Lord his God, was evidently beginning to play the hypocrite;—to make the service of God an excuse for acts of selfishness, and so to introduce all that is vilest in king-craft as well as in priest-craft.” Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 26.Verse 15. - They have brought them. No doubt this was verbally true, and very probably the excuse of holding a great sacrifice to Jehovah had been put prominently forward. But reasons are never wanting when men have made up their minds, and the people who so readily obeyed Saul before (1 Samuel 14:24, 34, 40) would have obeyed him now, had he really wished it. For a king so wilful and imperious as Saul thus to seek for excuses, and try to throw the blame on others, marks, as has been well observed, a thorough break down of his moral character. Their king, Agag, he took alive (on the name, see at Numbers 24:7), but all the people he banned with the edge of the sword, i.e., he had them put to death without quarter. "All," i.e., all that fell into the hands of the Israelites. For it follows from the very nature of the case that many escaped, and consequently there is nothing striking in the fact that Amalekites are mentioned again at a later period (1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12). The last remnant was destroyed by the Simeonites upon the mountains of Seir in the reign of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:43). Only, king Agag did Saul and the people (of Israel) spare, also "the best of the sheep and oxen, and the animals of the second birth, and the lambs and everything good; these they would not ban." משׁנים, according to D. Kimchi and R. Tanch. , are לבטן שׁניים, i.e., animalia secundo partu edita, which were considered superior to the others (vid., Roediger in Ges. Thes. p. 1451); and כּרים, pasture lambs, i.e., fat lambs. There is no necessity, therefore, for the conjecture of Ewald and Thenius, משׁמנּים, fattened, and כּרמים, vineyards; nor for the far-fetched explanation given by Bochart, viz., camels with two humps and camel-saddles, to say nothing of the fact that camel-saddles and vineyards are altogether out of place here. In "all that was good" the things already mentioned singly are all included. המּלאכה, the property; here it is applied to cattle, as in Genesis 33:14. נמבזה equals נבזה, despised, undervalued. The form of the word is not contracted from a noun מבזה and the participle נבזה (Ges. Lehrgeb. p. 463), but seems to be a participle Niph. formed from a noun מבזה. But as such a form is contrary to all analogy, Ewald and Olshausen regard the reading as corrupt. נמס (from מסס): flowing away; used with reference to diseased cattle, or such as have perished. The reason for sparing the best cattle is very apparent, namely selfishness. But it is not so easy to determine why Agag should have been spared by Saul. It is by no means probable that he wished thereby to do honour to the royal dignity. O. v. Gerlach's supposition, that vanity or the desire to make a display with a royal slave was the actual reason, is a much more probable one.
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